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Concrete frame structures are a very common - or perhaps the most common- type of
modern building. As the name suggests, this type of building consists of a frame or
skeleton of concrete. Horizontal members of this frame are called beams, and vertical
members are called columns. Humans walk on flat planes of concrete called slabs. Of
these, the column is the most important, as it is the primary load-carrying element of the
building (See figure 2 at the bottom of the page for an illustration of each of the major
parts of a frame structure). If you damage a beam in a building, it will usually affect only
one floor, but damage to a column could bring down the entire building.

When we say concrete in the building trade, we actually mean reinforced

concrete. Its full name is reinforced cement concrete, or RCC. RCC is
concrete that contains steel bars, called reinforcement bars, or rebars.
This combination works very well, as concrete is very strong in
compression, easy to produce at site, and inexpensive, and steel is very
very strong in tension. To make reinforced concrete, one first makes a
mould, called formwork, that will contain the liquid concrete and give it
the form and shape we need. Then one looks at the structural engineer's
drawings and places in the steel reinforcement bars, and ties them in
place using wire. The tied steel is called a reinforcement cage, because
it is shaped like one. Once the steel is in place, one can start to prepare
the concrete, by mixing cement, sand, stone chips in a range of sizes,
and water in a cement mixer, and pouring in the liquid concrete into the
formwork tilll exactly the right level is reached. The concrete will
become hard in a matter of hours, but takes a month to reach its full
strength. Therefore it is usually propped up until that period. During

this time the concrete must be cured, or supplied with water on its
surface, which it needs for the chemical reactions within to proceed

Working out the exact 'recipe', or proportions of each ingredient, is a science

in itself. It is called concrete mix design. A good mix designer will start with the
properties that are desired in the mix, then take many factors into account,
and work out a detailed mix design. A site engineer will often order a different
type of mix for a different purpose. For example, if he is casting a thin
concrete wall in a hard-to-reach area, he will ask for a mix that is
more flowable than stiff. This will allow the liquid concrete to flow by gravity
into every corner of the formwork. For most construction applications,
however, a standard mix is used. Common examples of standard mixes are
M20, M30, M40 concrete, where the number refers to the strength of the
concrete in n/mm2 or newtons per square millimeter. Therefore M30 concrete
will have a compressive strength of 30 n/mm2. A standard mix may also
specify the maximum aggregate size. Aggregates are the stone chips used in
concrete. If an engineer specifies M30 / 20 concrete, he wants M30 concrete
with a maximum aggregate size of 20mm. He does NOT want concrete with a
strength of between 20-30 n/mm2, which is a common misinterpretation in
some parts of the world.
So the structure is actually a connected frame of members, each of which are firmly
connected to each other. In engineering parlance, these connections are called moment
connections, which means that the two members are firmly connected to each other.
There are other types of connections, including hinged connections, which are used
in steel structures, but concrete frame structures have moment connections in 99.9% of
cases. This frame becomes very strong, and must resist the various loads that act on a
building during its life.
These loads include:

Dead Loads: the downwards force on the building coming from the
weight of the building itself, including the structural elements, walls,
facades, and the like.

Live Loads: the downwards force on the building coming from the
expected weight of the occupants and their possessions, including
furniture, books, and so on. Normally these loads are specified in
building codes and structural engineers must design buildings to carry
these or greater loads. These loads will vary with the use of the space,
for example, whether it is residential, office, industrial to name a few. It
is common for codes to require live loads for residential to be a

minimum of about 200 kg/m2, offices to be 250 kg/m2, and industrial

to be 1000 kg/m2, which is the same as 1T/m2. These live loads are
sometimes called imposed loads.

Dynamic Loads: these occur commonly in bridges and similar

infrastructure, and are the loads created by traffic, including braking
and accelerating loads.

Wind Loads: This is a very important design factor, especially for tall
buildings, or buildings with large surface area. Buildings are designed
not to resist the everyday wind conditions, but extreme conditions that
may occur once every 100 years or so. These are called design
windspeeds, and are specified in building codes. A building can
commonly be required to resist a wind force of 150 kg/m2, which can
be a very significant force when multiplied by the surface area of the

Earthquake Loads: in an earthquake, the ground vigorously shakes the

building both horizontally and vertically, rather like a bucking horse
shakes a rider in the sport of rodeo. This can cause the building to fall
apart. The heavier the building, the greater the force on it. Its important
to note that both wind and earthquake impose horizontal forces on the
building, unlike the gravity forces it normally resists, which are vertical
in direction.

The concrete frame rests on foundations, which transfer the forces - from the building
and on the building - to the ground.

Some other important components of concrete frame structures are:

Shear Walls are important structural elements in high-rise buildings. Shear walls are
essentially very large columns - they could easily measure 400mm thick by 3m long making them appear like walls rather than columns. Their function in a building is to
help take care of horizontal forces on buildings like wind and earthquake loads.
Normally, buildings are subject to vertical loads - gravity. Shear walls also carry vertical
loads. It is important to understand that they only work for horizontal loads in one
direction - the axis of the long dimension of the wall. These are usually not required in
low-rise structures.
Elevator Shafts are vertical boxes in which the elevators move up and down - normally
each elevator is enclosed in its own concrete box. These shafts are also very good
structural elements, helping to resist horizontal loads, and also carrying vertical loads.


Concrete frame structures are strong and economical. Hence almost any walling
materials can be used with them. The heavier options include masonry walls of brick,
concrete block, or stone. The lighter options include drywall partitions made of light steel
or wood studs covered with sheeting material. The former are used when strong,
secure, and sound-proof enclosures are required, and the latter when quick, flexible

lightweight partitions are needed.

When brick or concrete blocks are used, it is common to plaster the entire surface brick and concrete - with a cement plaster to form a hard, long-lasting finish.


Concrete frame buildings can be clad with any kind of cladding material. Common
cladding materials are glass, aluminum panels, stone sheets, and ceramic facades.
Since these structures can be designed for heavy loading, one could even clad them in
solid masonry walls of brick or stone.